The Lancet medical journal calls climate change the “greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” The health risks associated with the extraction, production and burning of fossil fuels are well-documented; the extraordinary risks of climate change, created by burning fossil fuels, dwarf every other health threat the world faces. Any health or life insurance company invested in fossil fuel funds is directly contradicting its own mission.
The World Health Organization estimates climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030-2050, at a cost of two to four billion dollars a year. Climate change is projected to increase incidences of heat stress, food insecurity, asthma and respiratory diseases, mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue fever and malaria, the spread of water-borne diseases, and other severe health impacts.
The harms to human health do not affect the population equally. The burden of exposure to fossil fuels and the accompanying risks to human health fall disproportionately on communities of color. Fossil fuel infrastructure is sited overwhelmingly near communities of color, from oil drilling in California, to pipelines in the Midwest, petrochemical refineries on the Gulf Coast, and coal plants throughout the nation. These exposures contribute to higher rates of severe childhood asthma and death from cardiovascular and cancer-related illnesses among communities of color compared to whites.
Health insurance companies display a real hypocrisy by investing in the industries that make people sick. It’s long past time for U.S. health insurers to join the over 30 insurers worldwide that have divested from fossil fuels (mainly coal and tar sands).
In October 2020, over 60 organizations sent a letter to ten of the largest US health insurers, calling on them to divest from fossil fuels — you can read the letter here.
Why are health insurers still investing billions of dollars into fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis and harming human health?
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Questions? Email Ashley McClure, MD at [email protected]